Derek Jeter injured? Next question!

BOSTON -- Derek Jeter lives by the old-school credo: If you're hurt, you're not playing. And if you're playing, you're not hurt.

Jeter insists he will play on Thursday, and every day after that, between now and the day that the Yankees' season finally ends.

That, of course, does not mean he is not hurt -- there most certainly is something painful going on in that left ankle of his -- but as long as he's in the lineup, don't ask him about the injury, because if you're playing, you're not hurt.

That is why both the strangest and scariest moment of the New York Yankees' 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night, the one that allowed them to keep pace with the relentless Baltimore Orioles, was the sight of Jeter walking off the field before the final out of the game had been made.

Derek Jeter simply does not leave ballgames. Period. Unless he has no other choice.

There's a stubbornness about it, a charmingly old-fashioned obstinacy about Jeter's hostility toward injuries and what they mean in terms of the frailty of the human body.

In fact, he hates the idea of injury so much he refuses to even acknowledge their existence.

Of all the qualities that make Jeter a great and beloved player among Yankees fans, this is the one they should admire the most.

There are plenty of professional athletes in every sport, and more than you would think in the Yankees' clubhouse, who fancy themselves blood-and-guts gamers and yet have no problem enumerating every little ache and pain in their bodies, always with the disclaimer, of course, that injuries are no excuse.

Jeter would not even admit he was hurt if he was bleeding profusely and missing body parts. He is like the knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who gamely and cheerfully carries on even as one limb after another is hacked off.

This is not to imply Jeter is impervious to pain, or any tougher than the average athlete, or the average human being, for that matter, only to make the point that while others limp the limp, Jeter walks the walk.

There really was no way to disguise the fact that Jeter was, indeed, experiencing pain as he crossed the bag trying to beat out an inning-ending double play Wednesday night. He couldn't hide the limp as he hobbled into right field, couldn't mask the grimace on his face as he doubled up near the baseline, and didn't seem to argue very strenuously when Joe Girardi told him he was coming out of the game.

"Did you read my lips?" he asked a reporter who observed it was unusual to see him come out of a game "willingly," a word that clearly stung Jeter. "If you didn't read my lips, how could you know? I told him I was fine. He said, 'Go in and put ice on it.' That was basically the extent of the conversation."

And that was as about as extensive a conversation as you will ever have with Jeter about an injury.

He prides himself on his durability, and obviously a great deal of the milestones he has achieved in his career -- before leaving the game, he came within one hit of tying Willie Mays for 10th on the all-time hits list and passed Met Ott on the all-time runs list -- is due to his remarkable ability to stay on the field.

But it is not just a matter of running up numbers for Jeter -- it's just as obvious that he values little things like showing up for work every day, old-school values that sometimes seem not to be as esteemed as they once were. It's no accident that one of his boyhood idols was Cal Ripken Jr., whose main achievement in an outstanding career was his ability and willingness to play every single day for nearly two decades.

Jeter is made of the same stuff, and while it may seem odd to see him staring into his computer screen at Yankee Stadium, studying the weather doppler on days when the threat of rain is looming, it is also an indication that, to him, there is nothing more important than that day's baseball game, and his role in it.

That is why the Yankees dodged a big bullet Wednesday night, because if it turned out Jeter was hurt seriously enough to miss a significant chunk of their remaining 20 games, it probably would have been game, set and match for their playoff hopes.

Because when, night after night, Derek Jeter talks about the Yankees' clubhouse being full of guys who don't panic, who have been through this before, and who know what it takes to win important games in September and October, he is talking mainly about himself.

And without his steadying presence on the field and in the clubhouse, it is more than likely that this tossing ship of a baseball team would come completely unmoored.

Already, we have seen the manager fly off the handle a half dozen times in the past month, with umpires, with fans and with reporters. We have seen some of the younger players wilt under the pressure -- David Phelps, who pitched well in earning the win Wednesday night, admitted the pressure got to him last week at Camden Yards -- and we have seen the kind of boneheaded mistakes on the field and on the basepaths that teams like the Yankees are not supposed to make.

But you know that is not going to happen with Jeter. After 16 seasons, he is now the old guy in the room everyone looks to, to set the tone.

And if you take him out of the mix, you pretty much cut the remaining heart out of the Yankees.

"It's not an issue," Jeter said, wearing an ordinary pair of white sneakers on what had to be a painful ankle, and walking out of the clubhouse without a limp. "I'm not going to sit here and talk about it. There's really no need to discuss it."

Discussing it, you see, would acknowledge its existence and give it validity, and to Derek Jeter, injuries are simply not valid.

Besides, he's playing on Thursday, and in Derek Jeter's code, if you're playing, you're not hurt. Period.